Category: Consumers

Should indoor tanning be banned?

Just how dangerous is indoor tanning? A couple of weeks ago, colleagues from the University of Michigan published an article with a rather stark recommendation: an immediate age limited ban on indoor tanning in all U.S. states, followed by a five-year phase-in ban for all commercial tanning.

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Robin Erb has a good piece on cosmetics and safe ingredients in the Detroit Free Press this week – it tackles the very limited regulation over what goes into cosmetics, but balances this with a useful perspective on consumer choice and how this in turn can drive business decisions on what is used and how.  I mention it because the issue of nanoparticles in sunscreens comes up briefly, and I am quoted on the matter. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been fairly vocal about the safety of nanoparticles in sunscreens.  I still contend that the weight of published evidence suggests that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreens do not present a significant when the relevant products are developed and used responsibly – and that the benefits of using this technology over others may in fact outweigh any residual risk.  But I’m also aware that this isn’t a closed issue – there are niggling questions on the use of photoactive particles, on nanoparticle sunscreen applications on delicate or compromised skin, and on dermal penetration of chemicals within the nanoparticles, that all need further research.  So I was surprised to read that my mind is apparently made up here! After talking with Robin about cosmetics, sunscreen and nanoparticles, she sent me draft of my comments to check for factual accuracy before the piece went to press.  The original text read: “…Agreed Andrew Maynard, director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan School of Public Health: “The industry seems reasonably well self-regulating.” In his research, Maynard asked whether nanomaterials in sunscreen — the nearly molecular-sized particles that ease the lotion into our skin pores – are dangerous. His conclusion: They’re not. “It was really surprising, to be honest,” he said.” This was uncommonly

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Not in the technical sense I’m afraid, but thought it would be fun to post this image of nano-branded M&Ms.  They were used as part of a recent NanoDays session with local school kids exploring the broader implications of nanotechnology. The only substantive link they have with real nano-enabled products as far as I can tell is the cost – they’re not cheap!

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This has just landed in my email in box from Craig Cormick at the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education in Australia, and I thought I would pass it on given the string of posts on nanoparticles in sunscreens on 2020 Science over the past few years: At Australia’s International Conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICONN 2012) earlier this month, the results of a public perception study were released that indicate some Australian consumers would rather risk skin cancer by not using sunscreen than use a product containing nanoparticles.  This despite increasing evidence that nanoparticles in sunscreens do not present a significant risk to health. The study was complimented by tests conducted by Australia’s National Measurement Institute that suggest some sunscreens labeled as “nano free” contain nanostructured material. According to the media release on the public perceptions study, “An online poll of 1,000 people, conducted in January this year, shows that one in three Australians had heard or read stories about the risks of using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them,” Dr Cormick said. “Thirteen percent of this group were concerned or confused enough that they would be less likely to use any sunscreen, whether or not it contained nanoparticles, putting them selves at increased risk of developing potentially deadly skin cancers. “The study also found that while one in five respondents stated they would go out of their way to avoid using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them, over three in five would need to know more information before deciding.” A news release sent out a couple of weeks ago to coincide with ICONN 2012 also noted Scientists from Australia’s National Measurement Institute and overseas collaborators reported on a technique using the scattering of synchrotron light to determine the sizes of particles in sunscreens. They found that some

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I thought I’d post this spoof presentation for the fun of it on the responsible development of “unobtainium”, which seems to have some remarkable similarities with some other emerging technologies: If you’re a little mystified, blame David Berube – who encouraged the initial idea, and embellished it in his own presentation at a recent conference on another – but entirely unrelated – technology: nanotechnology. While this is all rather facetious, there are some important points buried in the presentation, that touch on issues surrounding speculative hype, exponential extrapolation, and analysis unencumbered by evidence. As a final word, David thought it a great lark writing about a mythical material called unobtanium, but was tickled pink to discover that there are some people who take this seriously. Here’s some stuff he dug up: First there’s the Wikipedia page dedicated to the material. Then, a Google Scholar search currently returns around 145 hits for the search term “unobtainium”. In 1990, Misra and Mohan wrote a piece titled “Towards unobtainium [new composite materials for space applications]” in Aerospace Composites and Materials. (Vol. 2, pp. 29-32. Nov.-Dec. 1990). And in 2010 Wired Magazine ran an on-line story on a congressional hearing on unobtanium.  Sadly, the hearing was only on rare earth elements – no mention of unobtanium on Capitol Hill – but the unobtanium story got some traction. Which just goes to show that no matter how hard we try to be make up weird stuff, the things people take seriously are almost always weirder!

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Last week, the Victoria branch of the Australian Education Union (AEU) passed a resolution recommending that “workplaces use only nanoparticle-free sunscreen” and that sunscreens used by members on children are selected from those “highlighted in the Safe Sunshine Guide produced by Friends of the Earth” as being nano-free.  The AEU also resolved to provide the Friends of the Earth Safe Sunscreen Guide and Recommendations to all workplaces their members are associated with.  Given what is currently known about sunscreens – nano and otherwise, I can’t help wonder whether this is an ill-advised move. The debate over the safety or otherwise of nanoparticle-containing sunscreens has been going on for over a decade now.  Prompted by early concerns over possible penetration through the skin and into the body of the nanosized titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide particles used in these products – and potential adverse impacts that might result – there has been a wealth of research into whether these small particles can actually get through the skin when applied in a sunscreen.  And the overall conclusion is that they cannot.  There have been a small number of studies that demonstrate that, under specific conditions, some types of nanoparticle might penetrate through the upper layers of the skin.  But the overwhelming majority of studies have failed to find either plausible evidence for significant penetration, or plausible evidence for adverse health impacts – a body of evidence that led the Environmental Working Group to make an about-face from questioning the use of nanoparticle-containing sunscreens to endorsing them in 2010. So why is the AEU now advising against their use?  And why are they advocating selecting sunscreens based on a document that does not provide evidence-based advice on efficacy or safety – and may end up leading to decisions that increase the risk of

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Okay so it’s more of a list of nanotech-enabled products than a lifestyle tool, but at the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, we’ve just released an iPhone version of our surprisingly successful web-based nanotech Consumer Products Inventory. With findNano, it’s a piece of cake to search or browse through the 1000+ manufacturer-identified nanotechnology-enabled products in the inventory, directly from an iPhone or iPod Touch.  And the really cool part – if you come across something that isn’t in the inventory that you think should be, you can simply take a photo and email it to us directly from the app.  And if it passes muster, we’ll add it to the list. The best way to discover what findNano is all about is probably to download it and take it for a spin (it’s free).  But here’s a quick overview for the curious:

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Twenty years ago, Don Eigler became the first person to manipulate and position individual atoms, making the breakthrough that many consider a pivotal moment in modern nanotechnology.  Unknown to Don and the rest of IBM team though (I assume), they were pipped to the “nano” post a full ten years earlier… by an Italian sparkling wine…

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) – a US-based non-profit organization committed to using public information to protect public health and the environment – has just released what is probably the most comprehensive evaluation to date of the safety and effectiveness of using titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreens.  And their conclusion? On balance, EWG researchers found that zinc and titanium-based formulations are among the safest, most effective sunscreens on the market based on available evidence. In other words, not only are zinc oxide and titanium oxide nanoparticle-based sunscreens OK, but they are safer and more effective than many non nanotechnology-enabled sunscreens. What makes this statement so startling is that EWG is not known for treating regulators and industry with kid gloves.  This is how the organization describes it’s way of working: Our research brings to light unsettling facts that you have a right to know. It shames and shakes up polluters and their lobbyists. It rattles politicians and shapes policy. It persuades bureaucracies to rethink science and strengthen regulation. EWG is about as far as you can get from a bunch of industry lackeys.  Yet here they are endorsing one of the more controversial products of nanotechnology…

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A nanotechnology fix for high-end audio addicts? I’m sitting at my computer watching a surreal balletic movie—a sheet of highly aligned carbon nanotubes is being slowly stretched, then allowed to slowly contract.  In the background is a soundtrack of traditional-sounding Chinese music. At least I think the soundtrack is over-dubbed, until I realize that the music is coming directly from the nanotube sheet itself, which has been attached to a small amplifier. And it suddenly dawns on me that I am watching something rather special—perhaps the biggest breakthrough in loudspeaker technology in decades…

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UK Consumer Organization Which? Releases New Report Who needs an emerging technologies blog when you have The Daily Mail?  For those of you that missed it, Wednesday’s on-line issue of the British tabloid newspaper highlighted “The beauty creams with nanoparticles that could poison your body” I’m so glad someone’s tracking this issue, while us folks over on the other side of the pond are dealing with the considerably less-interesting issues surrounding the incoming Obama administration.  The only trouble is, the Mail didn’t quite get it right.  In fact on a scale of 1 – 10, I’m not even sure they even make it to first base…

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2020 Science is the personal blog of Andrew Maynard - Director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University. More ... 

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